Made Here: Feeling Kind of Funny, BBC Radio Scotland

FEELING Kind of Funny is a two-part series on BBC Radio Scotland that looks at mental health issues… by laughing at them.

Says the makers, Dabster Productions: “Suicidal tendencies, anxiety, depression and compulsive behaviour are not subjects that you would normally laugh at, but in these programmes that’s exactly what six comedians do on stage to challenge stigma and increase public awareness.”

Part two is being broadcast today, at 13.30. Here Dabster Productions’ MD, Richard Melvin, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the series?

‘Feeling Kind Of Funny’ was commissioned by Jeff Zycinski, head of Radio for BBC Radio Scotland. The station started the year with a season called ‘Changing Minds’, looking at the issue of mental health. Dabster Productions has vast production experience in comedy programming and presented a lighter, more accessible route to talk about the serious topics being examined in the series.

Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘sound and feel’.

We wanted to confront the listeners with complicated issues by hearing from the contributors in their own words. Comedians draw on personal experiences for their material yet still hide behind a persona on stage. In this programme, we got an emotional response from the performers by playing back their own sets to them, recorded the previous night in front of a live audience at the Scottish Storytelling Centre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

Facing their own words, the comedians told their stories in a different light, and explained why they choose to share their experiences on stage, how that has helped them and subsequently audiences around the world.

Sonically, we wanted to reproduce the sense of isolation that so many mental health sufferers experience and contrast that with the warm rich sound of the live performances. By subtly warping the audio, we tried to catch listeners’ attention with production not typically heard on daytime radio, then further engage them the stark raw voices recorded in a studio environment.

Who are the key personnel?

The show was conceived by producer/presenter, Julia Sutherland, herself a comedian who has experienced mental health issues in the past. Along with myself, the live show and the reaction interviews were produced over two days, with the difficult edit following over the next week. The sound design, composition and the mix were done by Dabster’s Sean Kerwin.

Contributors were Janey Godley, John Lloyd, Debs Gatenby, Juliette Burton, Keara Murphy, Felicity Ward and Harriet Dyer.

What kit and software?

The live show was recorded with SM58’s to retain the ‘live feel’ of performance, with Rode M3s in stereo capturing the audience and ambience. The studio recordings were recorded with Neumann TLM 49s. The programme was edited on Cubase 6 with additional composition on Ableton 8.

What have been the main production challenges?

The challenges arose from treating the sensitive subjects and issues that arose with due care and respect. The onstage material from the comedians was fair game; it is expressly for public consumption. However, the stories behind the comedy are deeply personal, we wanted to make sure that the contributors were comfortable with sharing their experiences and emotions. The compassionate and sympathetic manner that Julia held during the interviews led the contributors to talk frankly about themselves, whilst responsible editing ensured the integrity of the programme and the comedians.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

Each of the team that worked on this show learnt a lot about how common mental health issues are in society, and how most of us are on the spectrum in one way or another. The treatment of mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed or secretive about, and that talking about the subject in an open and honest way will only serve to help more and more people in the future leading to happier and more fulfilled lives.